Mangled Hangul

I’m learning hangul.  Why’s that?  No, stop.  WHAT is that?

It’s a writing system.  It’s the Korean writing system.  And it didn’t just evolve over the years as so many do. A Korean King, Sejong devised it in 1446. He realised that the classical Chinese script used at the time was unsuited to the sounds and grammar of the Korean language, so sat down and invented something more suitable.

It’s a writing system so appreciated by the Koreans that they even have a day off to celebrate it.  Hangul day is in October every year.

I don’t appreciate it much.  I find it quite tricky.  But learn it I must, and  Malcolm too, preferably before September.

Why though? Because in September we’re going to visit daughter Emily.  You may remember she’s working in South Korea for a year, and how could we not go to the other side of the world to visit her in a place she’s so enjoying, where she’s seeing and experiencing so many new things (raw octopus anyone?)?

And if we want to read a menu outside the few tourist areas, if we want to read a few street names, and catch the right bus, and not wander into the gents if we want the ladies, reading hangul might be a good place to start.

There are 40 characters.  Some of them aren’t too bad.

Korean consonants

Can you see the ‘n’ sound?  Well, that sort of looks like a nose. And the ‘h’?  That sort of looks like a man wearing a hat.  And it’s easy enough to get your head round the ‘s’ sound looking like a ‘moustache’.
And once you’ve got the single consonants sorted, their doubles are a doddle.  Though I can’t for the life of me see how they sound different from each other.
That only took a couple of weeks to get to grips with  – please ignore all those internet videos called things like ‘Learn hangul in two days’, which begin by chattering over-excitedly about how easy it all is.  It’s just … not.
Then came the vowels:
Korean vowels
Honestly, these vowels are a nightmare.  I test myself on Memrise every day, and every day I get my yaes, my yeos, my yes, my wos and my wis, to name but a few, totally, totally muddled.
And it doesn’t end there.  Some versions of the script are neat, thin computer strokes, the Korean equivalent of ‘Ariel’.  Others, like the ones shown here, are more painterly, and yet others are positively ebullient. Shall I even recognise my painfully memorised lessons?
And then, these symbols don’t trot from left to right across the page.  Each word is organised in groups ….
 
….. like this.  This is ‘hello’ by the way.
So as to learning the language.  I think that may be an effort too far.  We’ll have to survive on ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’.  And throw ourselves on the mercy of the people we meet.  Emily says everyone is friendly, courteous and eager to help.  They haven’t met us yet.
We understand the way forward is to pack a quantity of card and some chunky felt tip pens.  Then, when we want to catch a bus, or ask directions, we write our proposed destination in hangul on the card, thrust it in someone’s face, and hope for the best.
All the same, I can’t wait.  I’ll be sure to send some ‘Postcards from Korea’ on my blog.

22 thoughts on “Mangled Hangul”

  1. Oh wow! I had enough trouble trying to get a few words of German together on our recent travels. The Asian languages have always struck me as a whole other level of difficulty. With any luck you’ll encounter some English learners who are eager to try out their skills. The note cards are a great idea, too.

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  2. I am in awe! I have studied French, German, Spanish and Latin, all a doddle compared to this. I admire your pluck! You must be very excited about going to see your daughter, though. 😊

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  3. Oh.My.God.
    Now that IS determination. I suppose it’s necessary if you’re to avoid endless plates of grubs in gravy, but you have my full admiration; as someone who was supposed to be a linguist but was always completely bamboozled by anything but western characters I think – no, I KNOW, that I’d fail miserably!

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    1. Klaba, you’d be fine. And it’s not the grubs in gravy we have to avoid so much as the raw octopus, dead but still wriggling on the plate. And pointing’s rude, so that’s not the way forward either 😦

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  4. What a wonderful adventure! You must be excited. I am impressed with your planning and effort to learn a new language, especially with a new alphabet. How long have you been working at learning Hangul? Good idea with the cards and pen. What about making cards with phrases already written for ease of use including the Hangul characters and the phonetic pronunciation? I look forward to reading of your adventures in Korea. Bon voyage et Bon chance!

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    1. Thanks, Clay. We’re going to be packing as if we were a pair of primary-school teachers off to work, with all our visual aids. I’ve been at it maybe six weeks or so. Not long enough though.

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  5. My goodness that looks so complicated! My poor brain couldn’t cope with learning all those different symbols. Clay Watkins idea sounds good but if it were me I’d end up with a bag full of cards and never be able to find the right one I needed. I hope you enjoy your adventure in October.

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  6. My advice to you is not to let Emily out of your sight! This is so daunting and it makes me realize that I’ve only ever traveled places where English is spoken, even if it isn’t the primary language. I guess I am the very definition of the ugly American . . . Anyway, of course this is a huge, not-to-be-missed opportunity–and I am excited to hear your stories about it!

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    1. Sadly this is advice we can’t take. Apart from a very few days holiday as we arrive, she’ll be at work. You? Ugly American? Never. I read about one in the papers every day, but you’re not him.

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